Solid Options Likely to Move
There are a number of relievers who could move this summer that could provide a pretty significant boost to the Milwaukee Brewers in the late innings.
Ian Kennedy, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Ian Kennedy has found his footing again in the Major Leagues by pitching at the end of games for the Kansas City Royals.
Kennedy got a pretty significant contract from the Royals after 2016, signing for five years at $70 million. At the time, Kennedy was coming off of a decent season as a starting pitcher, where he pitched to a 3.68 ERA over 31 starts and was 1.9 WAR player.
Since that contract was signed, however, Kennedy lost his ability his start games. He posted exactly zero WAR in the first year of that contract in 2017, and was a just a one WAR player in 2018 while starting only 22 games. Given his struggles as a starter, the Royals decided it was best to send Kennedy to the pen where his ability to induce swing- and-misses could be played up more in short stints.
The move to make Kennedy a late-inning reliever has paid off big-time for the Royals this year. Kennedy has pitched 38 1/3 innings so far this season and has posted an ERA of 3.29. His underlying stats suggest he’s been even better than ERA shows.
Kennedy is striking out a career best 10.8 batters per nine innings. He has reduced his BB/9 rate to just 2.11 (which is also a career best). And, he’s given up just 0.47 HR/9 which is one of the best marks in the Majors. He’s inducing ground balls on nearly 44% of the balls put in play against him, a career best mark too. All of that is helping to fuel his very low FIP (2.28). His WAR of 1.2 is the second best mark he’s posted in any season since 2014.
Kennedy has emerged as a fantastic late-inning weapon in 2019. The major barrier to any potential trade is how much money the Royals are going to be willing to eat of his contract. After all, his final year in 2020 will see him earn $16.5 million, an incredibly high price for any pitcher, let alone someone who just recently converted to being a reliever.
Assuming the money could be worked around, you’d be hard pressed to find a better second-tier option on the market this summer than him.
Seth Lugo, RHP, New York Mets
Another solid late-inning weapon who could find his way on to the trade market this summer is Seth Lugo of the New York Mets.
Lugo was originally a starting pitcher when he made it the Majors, but has since been converted into a reliever capable of shouldering multiple innings in one appearance.
2018 was the first time the Mets converted him to a bullpen role. He excelled in that opportunity. Lugo pitched over 101 innings while posting a very impressive 2.66 ERA last year. Lugo’s success was built off of his ability to miss bats and limit hard contact. Lugo struck out 9.15 batters per nine innings last season while giving 0.8 HR/9. He was able to get opponents to hit ground balls on 46.5% of the balls in put in play against him.
This season, Lugo’s been missing bats even more often than last season. His K/9 rate is a career best 12.02. He’s not walking batters at a higher rate either while doing this (his BB/9 is 2.56 after being 2.51 last season). Like many pitchers around the league, Lugo’s had to adjust to the ball going farther when it’s hit this year. His HR/9 is up as his the amount of hard contact against him (a career high 38.6% after being at 31% in 2018). However, the additional strikeouts he’s getting has helped him maintain a solid 3.15 ERA with a 3.30 FIP.
Lugo would come at a mammoth cost if he were to move today. He will be entering his first year of arbitration this off-season, making him a valuable multi-year reliever. That said, Lugo may be the closest thing to an up-and-coming elite reliever of any player to appear on these lists. He’s an incredible talent who’s having major success at the Major League level and may continue to improve as time goes on.
Sam Dyson, RHP, San Francisco Giants
Sam Dyson has been a consistent late-inning pitcher now for several Major League seasons.
Dyson was a 1.2 WAR player in both 2015 and 2016. He had an uncharacteristically bad 2017, before returning to a good level of production in 2018 and 2019.
He’s not the flashy strikeout pitcher that many late-inning guys are, but his success comes from his ability to induce ground balls at a very efficient rate. Dyson has gotten opponents to ground out on 63.7% of the balls put in play against him over his career, and he’s gotten opponents to hit grounders on 55.6% of the balls put in play against him in 2019.
Dyson, however, is more than just a contact pitcher. He’s averaging 8.61 K/9 in 2019, one of the better marks of his career, while walking a career low 1.17 batters per/9. Dyson has avoided the home run issues that many other relievers around baseball are experiencing this year as his HR/9 rate stands at just 0.59, and opponents are making hard contact on just 29.6% of the balls put in play against him this season.
The Giants have begun to play themselves back into the wild card picture thanks to an incredible hot streak their on. If/when that fades, Dyson could be one of the best relievers available on the market this summer. Given that he has one more year of control beyond this season, and his pitching profile, Dyson may be the perfect fit for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Alex Colome, RHP, Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox have faded significantly in the American League playoff race in recent weeks. That means many of their veteran players nearing the end of their contracts will likely be moving before the July 31st deadline. Alex Colome is likely to be among those moved.
Colome has become one of the more consistent late-inning guys in the Majors. Colome has been a one WAR or better pitcher in four consecutive seasons prior to this year. Much of that time has been spent as a closer.
In 2019, Colome has been near his previous seasons in production. Colome has saved 20 games in the 37 2/3 innings he’s pitched so far and has a solid 2.39 ERA.
There are, however, causes for concern in his numbers. Colome has seen his K/9 rate drop to a career low 6.93 (his MLB average is 8.16), and opponents are making hard contact against him at a career high 39% rate. His HR/9 is virtually the same as last season (0.96), but opponents are hitting an unsustainably low .156 on BABIP against him so far. Those numbers suggest he’s due for some major regression in the second half of the season.
Regardless of those concerns though, Colome has a solid track record. He would make a seasoned addition to the pen with one more year of control remaining.
Aaron Bummer, LHP, Chicago White Sox
On the flip side of the equation, the White Sox have a young, controllable reliever who’s in the midst of his best Major League season in 2019: Aaron Bummer.
Bummer had a very nice 2018 in relatively limited innings. Though his ERA was a 4.26, Bummer was good for 0.8 WAR in the 31 2/3 innings he pitched, and his K/9 (9.95), BB/9 (2.84), and HR/9 (0.28) all suggested he was much better than his ERA showed.
In 2019, Bummer has built on his breakout performance. Bummer has pitched to an incredibly low 1.83 ERA in 34 1/3 Innings. Though his K/9 is slightly down (8.91), he’s continued to limit the walks (2.88), and home runs he gives up (0.52)
He’s a rare blend that can get swings-and-misses while also keeping the contact he does give up on the ground. He had a groundball rate against of over 60% last season, and in 2019 he’s gotten that up to 66.3% of the balls put in play against him. Opponents are making hard contact on just 24.7% of the balls put in play against him as well.
Given his age (25) and lack of service time (he has less than a year of service time at the moment), a deal may be very difficult to pull off. However, the Milwaukee Brewers might be wise to consider spending quite a bit of prospect depth on him. He looks like he may be on his way to becoming a top-tier reliever.
Shane Greene, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Shane Greene has been one of the few bright spots on a very bad Detroit Tigers team.
Greene first found major success as a late-inning option for the Tigers in 2017. He scuffled for most of last season, but has since returned to something strongly resembling his 2017 breakout.
Greene has the second lowest ERA among relievers in the Majors entering play on Thursday at a 1.06, just ahead of Kirby Yates. Greene is striking out 9.26 batters per nine, which is virtually in line with his career averages, while walking just 2.65 batters per nine. After having issues with the long ball last season (he gave up 1.71 HR/9), he’s been able to hold opponents to a manageable 1.06 HR/9 this season. He’s been able to get ground balls at a much higher rate so far this season (53.4%) than he has in the past too (career average of 46.4%). He’s limiting hard contact to just 27.3% on the balls put in play against him.
One note of caution with Greene is that his FIP (3.66) and xFIP (4.04) are much higher than his ERA which suggests that some regression will happen in the second half of the season. That said, even if that does occur, Greene should still be a very good reliever for the remainder of the season.
Greene is under contract through 2020. Given his track record as a solid late inning option, the Tigers will likely look to land a major return for him at the trade deadline this year. The Brewers will certainly explore him as an option.
Reyes Moronta, RHP, San Francisco Giants
One final reliever who could find his way onto the market as solid option is a lesser-known reliever on the Giants: Reyes Moronta.
Moronta got his first shot at full-time action in the Major Leagues in 2018. Though he struggled with walks (his BB/9 was 5.12), Moronta was able to post a 2.49 ERA in 65 Innings a season ago thanks to his great K rate (10.94 per/9) and limiting hard contact (he gave up 0.55 HR/9 and opponents had a hard contact rate on batted balls in play against him of 29.5%). He was a 1.1 WAR player.
This season, Moronta has continued to improve. His K/9 rate has jumped to 12.25. He’s seen a slight reduction in the amount of walks he’s issuing (4.36 per nine), and he’s continuing to keep the ball in the park (0.62 HR/9) despite an increase in hard contact off of him (35%).
Given that he’s under control through 2024, the Giants will try to hold on him. However, given his emerging profile as great late-inning guy, they may be wise to entertain deals for him ahead of the trade deadline.